»  National Review Online

August 25, 2008

   The Election from Hell

How quickly time passes! It has been a mere year and a half since the first candidate debates, and the party conventions are upon us already. Next week, the Democratic Party convention in Denver — "Most Diverse in Party History" boasts the website. The following week, the Republicans in Minneapolis-St. Paul — "Twin Cities Promise Double Fun for GOP."

Fun? Melancholy spectacles both, in this writer's opinion, for this is the most disastrously awful choice Americans have ever been offered for the post of Chief Executive.

It is true that no election season reaches this point without much grumbling from commentators about the poverty of choice on offer. "Who else have you got?" asks pollee of poller in the famous Paul Conrad cartoon … which dates from the 1964 campaign. There are grounds to believe that this election's choice is quite exceptionally bad, though.

I can't say that I ever felt much warmth for either John McCain or Barack Obama. The first struck me as a burned-out Senate seat-warmer (term limits! oh please, term limits!) who had shown outstanding courage as a young warrior but considerable wrong-headedness as a politician — a category of persons with which history has, after all, been well supplied. Obama I have never seen as anything but a bag of wind, possessed of great political guile, but steeped in the faddy, solipsistic notions of post-1960s college leftism.

That these two men are much worse than I thought only became apparent to me at the Saddleback interviews conducted last weekend by Baptist minister Rick Warren in front of 5,000 of his parishioners. Here the truth came out. These are not merely two different specimens of mediocrity, as is usual in presidential campaigns; they are two different specimens of love-the-world romantic fantasist.

Perhaps there is at least — I am clutching at straws, dear reader — some tiny element of choice in the fact that McCain and Obama are methodologically different in their desires to spend as much of America's resources as they can get their hands on to lift up foreign peoples in foreign places. In accordance with their youthful experiences, McCain sees the task in warlike terms: "evil must be defeated." To Obama it's more a matter of community organizing: "building public health infrastructure around the world."

Both men are determined to set this planet to rights, though, and hang the cost. Doesn't the United States have infinite resources? Of course it does. Eliminator of All Evil, or Welfare Agency to the World; Brig. Gen. Jack D. Ripper or Albert Schweitzer; you just have to choose. Can we afford it? Yes, we can! (That faint sound you hear? That's the clink-clink of devaluing dollars — just ignore it.)

One hardly knows where to start with this gibberish. With eliminating evil, perhaps.

Warren:   How about the issue of evil? … Does evil exist and if so, should we ignore it, negotiate with it, contain it or defeat it?
McCain:   Defeat it. … Of course evil must be defeated …

Warren didn't raise a peep. This is a Christian church? Hasn't anybody present heard of original sin? The only way to eliminate evil is to eliminate the human race. I wouldn't rule out the possibility that McCain's policies will have that result, but if it's the result he intends, he ought to tell us.

Warren:   There are 148 million orphans in the world, 148 million kids growing up without Mommies and Dads. … Would you be willing to consider and even commit to doing some kind of emergency plan for orphans like President Bush did with AIDS?
Obama:   I think it's a great idea. … I think that part of our plan though has to be how do we prevent more orphans in the first place and that means that we're helping to build the public health infrastructure around the world …

Heaven forbid that people in Nigeria, Nauru, Norway, or Nicaragua should build their own clinics and hospitals, without any help from Uncle Sam and his limitless bounty! Heaven forbid they should take care of their own orphans, and we of ours!

But then, as John McCain says: "America's greatest moral failure has been, throughout our existence, perhaps we have not devoted ourselves to causes greater than our self-interest." Except, of course, that nations are supposed to devote themselves to their self-interest, and to nothing else. That's what sane people want their nation to do. That's what all the other nations of the world do do.

As individual human beings, of course, all but a small minority of us routinely devote ourselves to "causes greater than our self-interest." We gladly yield up our time, our money, and occasionally our very lives, on behalf of such causes — family, union, professional association, church, political party, neighborhood softball league, nation. Those of us who have deep religious convictions often go way beyond the norm, helping strangers in foreign lands. All good acts, all noble acts … by individual human beings.

A government, however, is not a human being. This rather elementary point of ontology seems to have escaped all three principals in Saturday's gathering. Governments don't go to the bathroom; governments don't date; governments don't catch cold. As a human being, John McCain is free to give up time and money to causes above his personal self-interest, and would be right to feel pleased with himself for having done so. As chief executive of our federal government, however, during his working hours he should attend to America's national self-interest, AND TO NOTHING ELSE AT ALL.

Rick Warren didn't even ask the two men about the Census Bureau report, released two days before, a topic of much commentary. (Though not by me. I had already said what I had to say when the previous report came out in May 2007.) Possibly this omission was in deference to Saddleback's location down there in southern California. Perhaps Pastor Warren feared that if he mentioned demographics, viewers might find themselves wondering if the 5,000 people present at this forum are the last 5,000 left in Orange County who can understand English. More likely Warren just believes, in common with most genteel Americans, including for a certainty both candidates, that only wicked people talk about demographics.

So I won't be watching either of the party conventions. Both parties' choices of nominee are appalling to me. I contemplate the next four years with dread.

I don't want either of these men in charge of the federal government, neither the crazy old fool nor the simpering sophomore. I don't want either the moralistic imperialism of John McCain or the welfare-state-to-the world sentimentalism of Barack Obama. I don't want my country represented by either a Compassionate Crusader or by Oprah Winfrey in drag. (Possibly in person, too, if the rumors we're hearing about Obama's plans for Ms. Winfrey are true.)

Even if I wanted either of them, I do not believe, as both candidates apparently do, that our country has the nigh-infinite fiscal resources required to fund their lunatic world-saving schemes. The effort to rid Iraq of evil has cost us working stiffs a trillion dollars so far; say $7,000 a head. Population-wise, the world has 260 Iraqs. So I'm in for two million bucks? John, hate to tell ya, but I don't have that kind of money. And this is the "conservative" candidate!

What a disaster! What on earth has happened to us? Nothing yet as bad as what will surely happen if either of these two gibbering numbskulls gets his hands on the levers of supreme executive power.